Big 12 changes coming after one last season with 10 schools

Getty Images
0 Comments

ARLINGTON, Texas — On the surface at Big 12 football media days, nothing really appeared much different. The 10 mannequins lining the main stage donned the uniforms of the same schools that have made up the conference for a decade.

As the annual two-day kickoff event wrapped up, workers began to dismantle the oversized figures, then carried them one by one off the stage that was adorned by all the team logos.

The Big 12 is heading into its final season as a 10-school league. Oklahoma and Texas, the conference’s only football national champions, still have at least this season – and up to two more after that – before moving to the Southeastern Conference.

BYU, Cincinnati, Houston and UCF won’t join the Big 12 until next summer. And it’s unclear if there could be more teams eventually added to the mix – from the Pac-12, or elsewhere.

“Don’t want to speculate, you know, on the future,” new Oklahoma coach Brent Venables said. “I’m going to keep it on this season and what’s right in front of us.”

For now, that is the Sooners trying to win another Big 12 title after their record streak of six championships in a row ended last season.

As for the Longhorns, they look to make a big improvement after going 5-7 with a six-game losing streak in coach Steve Sarkisian‘s first season. He hasn’t decided whether Hudson Card or transfer Quinn Ewers will be the starting quarterback, but Sarkisian isn’t worried about that – “We’re in a really good position,” he said – and also isn’t concerned about the pending switch of leagues.

“Regardless of playing this year in the Big 12, or next year in the Big 12 or whatever this is going to look like, our style of play, our roster that we have in place, is one that regardless of who we play is going to be one that fits us and what we want to do,” Sarkisian said. “This is just our belief of who we want to be as a team.”

It was a week after Big 12 media days wrapped up last July that word came out about Oklahoma and Texas planning a move to an expanded SEC.

The Big 12 responded in September with the four additions, football independent BYU and the three American Athletic Conference schools that have worked out an early departure from that league. UCF had messages on electronic billboards around AT&T Stadium this week expressing the school’s excitement about moving to the Big 12.

“We have really good programs leaving, and we have really good programs coming in,” new Texas Tech coach Joey McGuire said.

Matt Campbell, the league’s second-longest tenured coach going into his seventh season, believes the Big 12 is in a strong position now because of the decision by Commissioner Bob Bowlsby and other leaders “to move, and not stand pat” last summer.

“Probably a lot better shape than we were a year ago at this time,” Campbell said. “A good move at the time because I think it’s probably positioned us in a great spot moving forward.”

Two weeks before this year’s Big 12 media days, Brett Yormark was named the league’s new commissioner after the 70-year-old Bowlsby’s decision earlier this year to retire. There was also another surprising shift in conference alignment, with UCLA and Southern California leaving the Pac-12 for the Big Ten.

Yormark, steadily busy even before his first official day on the job Aug. 1, described himself as actively engaged in realignment, with input from throughout the conference. He said during his introduction that he saw “there was opportunity” without specifically naming any schools, and adding that nothing was imminent.

“As we vet out the possibilities, everything will be additive. Nothing will be dilutive,” Yormark said. “I feel very confident that our conference is in the best position it’s ever been before.”

Texas and Oklahoma are set to remain in the Big 12 through the 2024-25 academic year, which would take them to the end of the conference’s current media rights deal.

When asked about a potential early departure for the Longhorns and Sooners, Yormark said he expected some future discussions with the two schools, and that he would always look for a “win-win situation.”

Oklahoma State coach Mike Gundy said he believed his team’s Bedlam series against Oklahoma would end when the Sooners leave the conference. And while saying he was joking, he also questioned why OU and Texas were still in on Big 12 meetings.

“I think the world is changing and people are like, yeah, they made a business decision. You know, the new commissioner, if I was him, I wouldn’t let OU and Texas in any meetings,” Gundy said. “I say that kind of jokingly, but really it’s almost business as usual.”

Lane Kiffin staying at Ole Miss with ‘a lot of work left to do’

Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin says he has informed school officials he will be staying at Ole Miss, putting an end to speculation that he was the leading candidate to fill the head coaching vacancy at Auburn.

“Same as I said last week: I’m staying here and we have a lot of work left to do,” Kiffin told The Associated Press in a voice message.

Kiffin added he has not signed a contract extension with the school.

The 47-year-old Kiffin is 23-12 in three seasons as Rebels coach. No. 20 Mississippi finished its regular season 8-4, losing four of its last five, including a 24-22 loss to Mississippi State.

Auburn was playing at No. 8 Alabama in the Iron Bowl, and its coaching search figured to heat up soon after its season concluded.

Auburn fired coach Bryan Harsin earlier this month and has gone 2-1 since under interim coach Carnell Williams, the former star running back for the Tigers.

With Kiffin off the market, Auburn is eyeing a former Mississippi coach to be its next coach.

A person familiar with the search told the AP that Auburn is interested in Liberty coach Hugh Freeze. The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because Auburn was not making details of its search public.

Freeze coached at Ole Miss for five seasons before leaving in disgrace in 2017 after the school discovered he used a university cellphone to call an escort service.

He landed at Liberty and has gone 34-14 in four seasons with the Flames.

Nebraska signs Matt Rhule to 8-year deal

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

After six straight losing seasons and more than 20 years removed from its 1990s heyday, Nebraska is turning to Matt Rhule to rebuild its program and make it competitive in the Big Ten Conference.

Rhule signed an eight-year contract to be the Cornhuskers’ next coach and will be introduced at a news conference, the school announced.

The 47-year-old Rhule quickly turned around downtrodden programs at Temple and Baylor before leaving for the NFL to coach the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers fired him in October after he started his third season with four losses in five games.

“It is a tremendous honor to be chosen to lead the Nebraska football program,” Rhule said in a statement. “When you think of great, tradition-rich programs in college football, Nebraska is right at the top of the list. The fan base is second to none, and I consider it a privilege to have the opportunity to coach in Memorial Stadium on Tom Osborne Field. My family and I are so grateful to become a part of the Husker Family, and we can’t wait to get started.”

Rhule was 11-27 with Carolina and left with about $40 million remaining on the seven-year, guaranteed $62 million contract he signed in 2020. The contract made Rhule the sixth-highest paid coach in the NFL when he signed in 2020, according to Forbes.

Nebraska said it would release details of Rhule’s contract.

“It is a privilege to welcome Coach Matt Rhule, his wife, Julie, and their family to Nebraska,” athletic director Trev Alberts said. “Coach Rhule has created a winning culture throughout his coaching career, and he will provide great leadership for the young men in our football program.

“Matt is detail-oriented, his teams are disciplined and play a physical brand of football. Matt also has the personality and relationship-building skills to build a great staff and excel in recruiting.”

About an hour after Rhule’s hiring was announced, wide receiver Trey Palmer announced on Instagram that he would declare for the NFL draft. Palmer, who transferred from LSU after last season, had three 150-yard games this year and set the Huskers’ single-season record with 1,043 yards.

The Huskers are among eight Football Bowl Subdivision programs with at least 900 wins, and they have won or shared five national championships. The last one came in 1997 under Hall of Fame coach Tom Osborne.

Five coaches have come and gone since then, most recently the quarterback of that ’97 team, Scott Frost.

Alberts fired Frost on Sept. 11 after the Huskers opened 1-2, with losses to Northwestern in Ireland and to Georgia Southern at home. They were 3-6 under interim coach Mickey Joseph and finished the season 4-8 following a 24-17 win at Iowa.

Nebraska was 16-31 in four-plus seasons under Frost, never finishing higher than fifth in the Big Ten West or going to a bowl.

In four seasons at Temple, Rhule coached the Owls to 28 wins. That included 26 from 2014-16. Temple was 10-4 in 2015 and reached the American Athletic Conference’s inaugural championship game. In 2016, Rhule led the Owls to a 10-3 record and an AAC championship. The conference title was the first in 49 seasons for the Temple program, and the Owls reached bowl games in consecutive seasons for the first time in school history.

Rhule was named Baylor’s coach in December 2016 in the wake of an investigation that found the private Baptist university had not responded adequately to allegations of sexual assault by players, resulting in the firing of Art Briles.

Rhule’s trajectory was similar at Baylor, where he went from 1-11 in 2017 to 7-6 with a bowl game the next season. In his third and final season, Baylor was ranked in the top 10, played in the Big 12 championship game and finished 11-3 after a Sugar Bowl loss to Georgia.

Rhule’s collegiate success provided him the opportunity to take over as the Carolina Panthers’ head coach in 2020. He guided the Panthers to five wins in each of his first two seasons before this year’s 1-4 start got him fired.

Rhule has ties to the Big Ten. He moved from New York City to State College, Pennsylvania, as a teenager. He played linebacker at Penn State from 1994-97 and began his coaching there as a volunteer assistant.